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Africa on cusp of M2M boom

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The advancement of ICT in Africa has put it in a strong opportunity to capitalise on technology in the machine-to-machine field, says KEES SNIJDERS, MD of Flickswitch.

Thanks to the advancement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the continent, Africa is in a strong position to capitalise on forecasts that the machine-to-machine (M2M) sector will generate $40 billion in global services revenue by 2019, says Kees Snijders, MD of Flickswitch.

Machine to machine refers to direct communication between devices using any communications channel, including wired and wireless. Forming part of the Internet of Things, M2M enables systems to communicate with other devices anywhere in the world.

“Africa has an enviable reputation of using technologically-driven solutions to overcome many of its challenges. And while not all countries share the same priorities, there are sectors that are universally important across the continent. These are agriculture, asset tracking, retail payments, and energy.”

He believes that M2M has an important part to play across these industries to not only improve efficiencies but also to reduce costs.

Water and agriculture management improves

“By implementing M2M to help with flow and pump monitoring, wastage in water can be reduced. We know too well that it has become an incredibly scarce resource on the continent. The rapid detection of leaks and careful monitoring of dam and reservoir levels mean that M2M solutions can notify relevant authorities before water levels are dangerously low,” says Snijders.

Of course, it goes beyond just water monitoring. M2M is also able to track game and livestock through technology such as tracking systems and drones. This means farmers have a more real-time view of what is going on around them and where specific issues are that need to be addressed.

In South Africa, a solutions provider has developed a livestock collar incorporating GPS and GSM technology that monitors the behaviour of a group of animals and sends an alert to the farmer’s mobile phone if there is abnormal behaviour (normally associated with theft or a predator attack).

Meanwhile, in the United States, a law was passed in November last year permitting companies to fly drones commercially on a case-by-case basis. This means that for the first time, agriculture drones will (legally) gather data across an entire growing season. By significantly improving the intelligence they have at their disposal, farmers will now be able to not only test their business models, but also become significantly more efficient. Given the significant water shortages in South Africa, drones could play a similarly critical role in our near future..

M2M is more than just about vehicle tracking

“M2M enables businesses to closely monitor goods that are in transit. Everything from the temperature at the back of the truck and its ambient conditions, to finding the optimum route, can be done using the technology. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the traditional tracking businesses are not necessarily the ones adopting the most advanced M2M solutions.”

According to Snijders, this has created an opportunity for smaller businesses to come up with innovative use cases for M2M that can appeal to a number of vertical sectors. “The level of sophistication required to keep up with theft and hijackings means traditional tracking devices are no longer good enough. M2M enables providers to adapt their solutions to meet changing requirements faster and more cost-effectively”, he says.

Research from MarketsandMarkets.com indicate the fleet management market is certainly a priority for many organisations globally. Rising global concerns around the environment and an increasing need for operational efficiencies in the fleet sector fuel expectations that the sector will grow from $8 billion in 2015 to $22.53 billion by 2020.

On the retail point of sale (PoS) front, there is a lot of movement happening thanks to M2M

“As the capabilities of consumer devices improve, mobile payment solutions like SnapScan and M-Pesa are driving significant growth in retail payments. Different markets are doing the things that suit their specific audiences, forcing retailers to think differently around M2M and adopt technologies in new and exciting ways. The pervasiveness of pay points is adding to this growth.”

Developing countries are in prime position to benefit from the strength of PoS in the M2M world. Brazil, the largest M2M market in Latin America, has already seen a compound annual growth rate of 48 percent over the last four years in M2M thanks mainly to PoS terminals connected by GSM.

Snijders adds that, “As with agriculture and water, energy is a vital sector on the continent.

Things like smart metering and solar are certainly increasing in adoption rates but they are not pervasive as yet. With energy presenting such a significant growth sector, we can expect sizeable investment to take place. Additionally, many operators are using M2M as a great way to showcase its potential in the energy sector.”

Research conducted by Ovum show that the energy and utilities sector is one of the most important ones in the global M2M market. The consultancy projects the sector to hit $7 billion in global revenue by 2018. Given the critical nature of energy in Africa, it could well be a good one to invest for the coming years.

Companies across Africa need to be aware that M2M is not only growing but thriving. Decision-makers need to think outside the box and leverage advances in technologies in innovative ways to capitalise on this.

Africa News

IoT’s answer for Africa

IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.

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With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose  as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.

Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.

The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks

It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.

We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.

The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization

One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.

Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water.  IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.

In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was  used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.

Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.

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Africa News

Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain

Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

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African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain fro­zen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s. 

So its population uses Hawala; an infor­mal value transfer system based on the per­formance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a cen­tral country clearing house, then onto a clear­ing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.

Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually be­come a replacement for Hawala and other exist­ing forms of international remittances. Cryptocur­rencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks. 

International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, par­ticularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.

At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging tech­nologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and servic­es. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s soft­ware developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.

Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infra­structure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.

We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Up­lus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding plat­form. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.

A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of block­chain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for Afri­can communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.

Regulation can nurture or constrict the tech­nology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Ken­ya, I’m proud to see how proactive the gov­ernment has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Com­munications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself reso­nating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.

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